~ by Amina Doherty
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Women’s Funding Network’s (WFN) annual conference in Los Angeles, California. Under the theme “Women, Economics & Peace” this year’s conference brought together a truly diverse group of women’s fund leaders, supporters, partners, and allies from Funds across the United States and Internationally. This was the second WFN conference I’d attended and it was wonderful to see many familiar faces from funds such as the Global Fund for Women, the African Women’s Development Fund, The Brazilian Women’s Fund (ELAS), SPARK, The Third Wave Foundation, The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and many new ones as well.
Michele Ozumba (the incoming President of the WFN) spoke passionately about her personal journey in the world of women’s rights and philanthropy and her vision for the direction of the network over the coming years. Michele described this year’s conference as more than just a conference but as a “summit” which she said meant for her – that it would be a space for many voices. She talked about the need for the WFN to consistently and intentionally build community, encourage dialogue, think about creative partnerships and facilitate opportunities for the “telling of stories.” Michele’s speech was followed by an energizing performance by a Latino music group from Los Angeles called: La Santa Cecelia (if you haven’t heard about them do check them out – they have been nominated for a Latin Grammy = instant cool factor!)
Probably one of the most intellectually stimulating sessions for me was the session presented by Saskia Sassen a professor of sociology and Member of the Committee on Global Thought at Colombia University. Professor Sassen’s presentation aptly titled “understanding women at the intersection economic processes” took an in-depth look at women as basic (read ‘critical’) features of all functioning economies. Her presentation urged our group to think about the ways in which globalization continues to affect women’s work in new ways. Professor Sassen began her presentation by sharing: “women have historically ‘made’ economies…I am interested in looking at global economies and developing an understanding of how women come to be hidden in these structures. I am interested in women living and working in the shadows. Women in the penumbra…” In her hour long presentation Professor Sassen urged our group to grapple with complex economic terms and theories but ultimately to understand the power of our own agency (as women) and to recognize the “global city” as both places of exploitation and also as places of resistance. “We must ignore these weapons of mass distraction” she said. “What we really need is fundamental systemic change – we must look beyond the socialism/capitalism divide. We need an economic system that gives economic value to the work we do at home.”
At this year’s summit I was tasked with the responsibility of moderating two ‘regional SpeakOut’ sessions. As I understood this was the first time that the WFN had actively sought to integrate the perspectives of women’s funds based and working outside the US formally into the conference agenda. Co-hosted by the International Network of Women’s Funds, the SpeakOuts were envisioned as a means of creating a platform for international women’s funds to share some of the issues facing women and girls in their regions, to encourage conversations amongst participants and to seek to facilitate global-local connections among members of the network. Speakers from the Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES), the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, the African Women’s Development Fund, Urgent Action Fund Latin America, Women for Afghan Women, The White House Project and the International Network of Women’s Funds spoke passionately about their work and the challenges they face in mobilizing resources to support women’s rights work. Perhaps most striking from both sessions was the feeling that across the board women continue to face similar struggles: increasing levels of violence and human rights violations, coupled with increasingly difficult political environments (many spoke of shifts to more conservative governments), rise in religious fundamentalisms, lack of resources and the funding impacts of the global economic crises, and the challenges associated with trying to build “a culture of philanthropy” for women’s rights work in certain regions. At the same time, the discussions left me with much optimism and feelings of opportunity. We talked about potential ways to engage new economic actors (while remaining true to our politics), thinking about the importance of recognizing our achievements when we have them (and not getting stuck on only seeing these in quantitative terms but more in qualitative terms – i.e. not just talking about having two women presidents but the politics and ideas of these women in power), valuing the impact of our funding across the board from small grants to emerging groups, to working together to collaborate and mobilize larger sums of money.
Perhaps one of my favorite sessions at this year’s conference was one called: “Successes and Challenges for Women-Led Social Justice Media”. The presenters at this session included: J. Bob Alotta of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, Elahe Amani Director of Technology Services, California States University, Laura Flanders of GRITtv, and Madeleine Lim of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) This session got me really excited and thinking more about the ways young feminists are connecting their activism to art and social media. I began to think more about the ways in which we tell our own stories and the potential “gender justice media” has to help us tell these stories better. I smiled out loud when Madeleine Lim of QWOCMAP described her organization’s strategic plan in two words: “Global Domination.” She said: “…the reason we need these stories is that we need to change our world.” I was deeply inspired by J. Bob Alotta’s question to the audience: “what is the cost of excluding women from the media? What is the cost of excluding our voices?” I was ready to get up and get moving when Bob stated: “If we are committed to different outcomes, we have to invest in them. Period. In order to fight, to do more advocacy, we need media and we have to be willing to invest.” This struck me because it shifted the discourse from simply talking about investing in women – but in strategies that can support us and take our agenda’s forward.
Overall, this year’s conference was very inspiring and packed full of interesting debate and discussion. I was honored to participate and look forward to building on many of the connections made and ideas shared. Finally, I would like to personally congratulate my friend and colleague Shannon Farley (the Executive Director of SPARK ) for being recognized at the “Changing the Face of Philanthropy Awards.” It was really moving to see an inspiring and awesome young feminist being recognized for her hard work and dedication to mobilizing resources for women’s rights work!
In the words of one of my favourite poets June Jordan: “We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for!”
 To learn more about Professor Sassen’s thoughts on this and more do check out: Sassen, Saskia. “Women in the Global City Exploitation and Empowerment.” <Accessed Online> http://www.lolapress.org/elec1/artenglish/sass_e.htm